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Miami Dolphins Depth Chart Projections: Linebacker

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Which linebackers will be on the Miami Dolphins’ roster when the Week 1 of the 2017 NFL season comes around, and where will they place on the depth chart?

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Los Angeles Rams Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The offseason is a magical time in the NFL. All players are “in the best shape of their lives” and every single coach is going to “create a winning culture.” All teams are “poised to make a playoff run,” and perennial losing teams are “finally ready to turn things around.”

That being said, the offseason is also a time when coaches need to make the tough decisions about who is going to make their team’s roster. No matter how much talent a team brings in through free agency and the draft, cuts are inevitable. An offseason roster of 90 players will eventually have to be trimmed down to the best 53, and outside of the team’s top players, there are never guarantees as to who will make the team.

This offseason, I am running a series of depth chart projections, breaking down Miami’s roster by position, and predicting who will make it to Week 1 of the 2017 season. Today, we review the linebackers.

Roster

Kiko Alonso

Lawrence Timmons

Neville Hewitt

Koa Misi

Mike Hull

Raekwon McMillan (R)

Trevor Reilly

Brandon Watts

Lamin Barrow

Deon Lacey

Chase Allen (UDFA)

Roster Locks

Kiko Alonso

Linebacker was the biggest question mark on Miami’s roster heading into the offseason, and while there is still quite a bit to be determined, Alonso has been the one constant at the position. After shining as a rookie with the division rival Buffalo Bills, only to be traded to the Eagles, and then finally ending up with the Dolphins before last season, Alonso found steady footing, and a home, in Miami. The fifth year linebacker lead the team in tackles last season with 115, picked up two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), and was the lone rock in the middle of the field. While the lineup of Miami’s starting linebackers is still to be determined, and may even shift around during the season (according to DC Matt Burke), one thing is for sure. Alonso will be ready to continue his role as an athletic tackling machine that defenses will not want to face.

Side note: Alonso signed a three-year $25 million extension just a few months ago, which tacked on to his already existing $3.9 million RFA tender. He’s also expressed his love for the city of Miami and the Dolphins organization. Translation: he’s going to be around for a while.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 100%

Lawrence Timmons

Timmons was a staple of the Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker unit for 10 seasons, starting 158 of 160 possible games during his time there. Now, he’s taking his talents to Miami, and that’s a darn good thing for the outlook of this defense. One of the most critical ailments of Miami’s 2016 campaign was the team’s lack of apparent toughness and inability to stop the run, both of which are areas in which the former Steeler has shined in recent years. He’s recorded over 100 tackles in six of the past seven seasons (in 2011 he had 93), and has the respect of many around the league. Not only will he come in and provide an immediate upgrade in the middle of the field, but he will also be a strong mentor for young newcomers like rookie Raekwon McMillan. In fact, the Sun Sentinel’s Omar Kelly tweeted that McMillan told the media about the value of having a mentor in Timmons, especially in off-the-field areas such as diet and training.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 100%

Raekwon McMillan (R)

McMillan was one of the top linebackers in the 2017 NFL Draft and a personal favorite prospect of mine. He was a team leader at Ohio State and a defensive captain during his time there, showing that he has a stellar character and that he earns the respect of those around him. He’s a proven run-stopper and has expressed that he’s capable of playing at any of the three linebacker spots, despite the fact that he played in the middle for most of his Ohio State career. He recorded over 100 tackles in each of his past two seasons as a Buckeye and has shown top level intelligence, awareness, and anticipation as a defender, all three of which are characteristics that can’t always be taught. McMillan also backs those intangibles up with strength and aggressiveness at the point of attack. He tackles downhill and clearly provides the kind of production that the Dolphins are looking for in a starting linebacker. Even if he somehow doesn’t start right out of the gate, he’s likely Miami’s MLB of the future.

Change of making the 53 man roster: 100%

Probable Backups

Koa Misi

The circumstances regarding Misi’s stance with the Dolphins have changed dramatically over the course of just one year. After entering last season as the team’s starting strongside linebacker, Misi endured a neck injury after just a few weeks that threatened his career. Speculation over his ability to play a full slate of 16 games (Misi has failed to do since his rookie year in 2010) caused fans to wonder if he’d ever play in aqua and orange again, but those curiosities were mostly silenced after Misi took a pay cut to remain with the team. While his run-stopping acumen and low-cost restructured contract likely signal that he’ll be around for at least one more season, the questions surrounding Misi’s health and the existence of younger options behind him on the depth chart leave some questions to be answered.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 80%

Mike Hull

Hull signed with the Dolphins as an undrafted free agent after the 2015 NFL Draft, and moved back and forth from the practice squad to the active roster during the 2015 season. In 2016, he contributed in all 16 regular season games, starting once at MLB in place of an injured Kiko Alonso. Hull piled up 33 total tackles as a rotational player while also making huge contributions on special teams. In his one start against the Arizona Cardinals, Hull made a big impact, coming up with a key interception and multiple tackles. One of the most important points to note about Hull is how he is perceived by his teammates and the coaching staff. Last season, when asked about the backup linebacker, everyone in the organization universally praised the third year player. Special teams captain Michael Thomas praised Hull for his special teams acumen, while Alonso referred to him as a “monster” when discussing his play style. Head coach Adam Gase expressed how impressed he is with Hull’s instincts and ability to react to a play. If Hull has one thing going for him, it’s how much everyone in the organization respects him. With the depth the Dolphins are boasting at the linebacker position this offseason, Hull will have to fight for a roster spot, but he’ll absolutely have a leg up on the multitude of unproven players behind him.

Percent chance of making the 53 man roster: 65%

Neville Hewitt

So far in his two years as a Dolphin, Hewitt has been the exemplary definition of quality rotational depth at linebacker. While he’s slid mostly under the radar in terms of headlines, the former undrafted free agent signee has been a contributor in all 32 games over the last two seasons, and has filled in well as a starter for 7. He’s by no means ready to be an every game starter in the NFL, but his 64 tackles in 2016 show that he has a knack for making plays, and any avid viewer of Miami Dolphins football knows that he’s been a valuable asset. Last season, the Dolphins were starving for depth on the defensive side of the field, and I don’t see any reason why Hewitt can’t continue to fill a depth role for the team. That being said, a player with just $334 left in guaranteed money, especially one who isn’t a star by any measure, will have to work to keep his spot on the roster. Hungry young players will attempt to jump him on the depth chart, and it’s up to the 24 year old Hewitt to hold them back.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 60%

Must Impress

Deon Lacey

While the Dolphins kept seven linebackers at one point last year, it is by no means a guarantee that they do the same this season. This means that if all of the above players make the roster, the rest of the linebackers at Miami’s OTAs will have to work hard to make an impression on this coaching staff if they want to make the team. By my estimation, Lacey has the best shot of the remaining linebackers to make that impression. The former Edmonton Eskimo was a standout in the CFL, starting out as a special teams ace and gaining a reputation as a smart defensive player with playmaking acumen. He contributed in all 54 possible games over his three year career, recording 144 defensive tackles, 68 special teams tackles, 7 sacks, 3 interceptions, 4 forced fumbles, and even a touchdown. If Lacey wants to have that same kind of impact in the NFL, he’s going to have to show the coaching staff that he can transfer the talent he displayed in Canada to this league. If he does, Hull and Michael Thomas are going to have a rival on their hands when it comes to the best special teams tackler on the roster. I know Darren Rizzi wouldn’t mind.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 45%

Training Camp Bodies

Trevor Reilly

Reilly is a strong player, sure tackler, and intelligent competitor, but has had limited to no success so far at the NFL level. After being drafted out of college in the seventh round by the New York Jets at the age of 26 (he went on a three year Mormon mission beforehand), Reilly compiled just 31 tackles over 29 games in two seasons. He was subsequently waived by the team, ending up on the Patriots practice squad before being signed to Miami’s roster late last season. He played in two games for the Dolphins, making a minimal impact. His talent and experience will give him a shot at the roster, but he’ll need a very strong training camp if he wants to climb past others at the position.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 25%

Chase Allen (UDFA)

Despite playing at a small school (Southern Illinois), Allen impressed the Dolphins with a strong pro day. They showed pre-draft interest in the productive linebacker, and signed him as a UDFA on April 29th following the conclusion of the draft. Allen’s size (6’4” 241), speed (4.58 40-yard dash), and flawless character made him very intriguing as a prospect, but those traits only helped him get in the door to Miami’s offseason roster. If Allen wants to make the 53, he’s going to have to put his athleticism and ability together during workouts and make an impact that the coaches just can’t overlook. Despite his potential, as of now, I see him as a practice squad player who can develop and work his way up over the next season or two.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 20%

Brandon Watts

Watts was drafted by the Vikings in 2014 and played in Minnesota for two years before being cut and signed to Miami’s practice squad in September of last season. During his college career at Georgia Tech, Watts proved to be a solid special teamer and good coverage linebacker. He recorded a phenomenal 40-yard dash time at his pro day (4.41) and has proven to be a very quick athlete. However, he lacks the ability to provide good help in run defense due to his below average play strength, limiting his ceiling as an every-down linebacker. He has a chance to hold onto a final roster spot as a backup weakside linebacker, but his small frame gives him a relative disadvantage compared to some of the bigger players.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 15%

Lamin Barrow

Barrow, like Watts, is a smaller framed, quick athlete who would fit best as a weakside linebacker. He was drafted by the Denver Broncos in 2014 and played in all 16 games during the 2014 season, recording 9 tackles as an occasional contributor. He played a similar role for the Chicago Bears in 2015, playing in all 16 games and recording 6 tackles. He has a reputation for being a leader and hard worker, lateral agility that keeps him involved in plays, and the ability to drop into zone coverage, but his lack of build and minimal past production will make it very difficult for him to have any shot at the 53.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 15%

Projected 2017 Linebacker Depth Chart

WLB

  1. Kiko Alonso
  2. Neville Hewitt

MLB

  1. Lawrence Timmons
  2. Mike Hull

SLB

  1. Raekwon McMillan
  2. Koa Misi
  3. Deon Lacey

Current Roster Projections

As we move through this series, I will keep a running list of past projections. By the time roster cuts roll around, we will have a complete 2017 depth chart projection.

Quarterback

Running Back

Wide Receiver

  1. Jarvis Landry
  2. DeVante Pakrer
  3. Kenny Stills
  4. Leonte Carroo
  5. Jakeem Grant
  6. Isaiah Ford (R)

Tight End

Offensive Line

Defensive Line

Linebacker

WLB

  1. Kiko Alonso
  2. Neville Hewitt

MLB

  1. Lawrence Timmons
  2. Mike Hull

SLB

  1. Raekwon McMillan
  2. Koa Misi
  3. Deon Lacey

Cornerback

Safety

Special Teams

Current roster spots occupied: 13